Thursday, February 28, 2002

Mentor, schmentor.
Harriet Rubin assails an unassailable notion of white-collar life in this sly Fast Company piece. Mentors, she says, are overrated. Too true.

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Three more signs of the apocalypse.
1. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist yesterday left the bench during oral arguments of a crucial First Amendment case to ask a woman to remove the orange scarf she was wearing. Why? He found it distracting.

2. Fox television, striving ever so hard to become a parody of itself, has announced its newest program: a one-hour show in which kneecapping figure skater Tonya Harding will box (yes, box) Long Island Lolita Amy Fisher and The Partridge Family's Danny Bonaduce will duke it out with The Brady Bunch's Barry Williams.

3. Most appalling of all, a USA Today poll reveals that 36% of Kuwaitis--you know, the folks that the U.S. (and others) rescued during the Gulf War--believe that the attacks on the World Trade Center--you know, the ones that killed about 3,000 innocent people--were "morally justifiable."

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Baseball, apple pie, and pulp fiction.
When I was a kid, I used to love reading (often cheesy) novels about baseball and basketball. But now that I'm pushing 40 . . . actually, I still read them. And so apparently do several other equally emotionally-stunted readers. Librarian Marylaine Block has compiled a terrific list of these treasures for those who share my guilty pleasures. (My favorites on her list, for whatever it's worth, are Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh Proprietor and Troy Soos's Hanging Curve).

Monday, February 25, 2002

Stop being fuelish.
When will hippie geeks’ greatest obsession, alternative energy, begin swimming into the mainstream? Ha! Probably the same day that USA Today runs a 2,000 word story on hydrogen fuel cells. Uh, that’s today. Many people believe that fuel cells are the Next Big Thing. Not me. The next big thing in energy, as Scientific American hints at in this article is going to be wind power. Please calm your excitement.

Friday, February 22, 2002

Danny Pearl.
I didn't know Danny Pearl--but like many people around the world today, I grieve for him, his wife, and his unborn child. Today's Wall Street Journal has a heartbreaking front-page story about his life and death.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

TV dinner from hell.
I'm usually a pretty optimistic guy, but every so often I spy something that makes the think the apocalypse could be lurking around the next corner. The latest example: Fox's new "reality" TV show -- The Glutton Bowl. This landmark television event, which premieres tonight, pits 40 contestants against each other to see who's the fastest at wolfing down spoonfuls of mayonnaise, chunks of beef tongue, and sticks of butter. And for those of you concerned that the competition isn't legit, fear not. It's sanctioned by something called the International Federation of Competitive Eating. Friends, the end may be near.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Exclusive Enron voice mail.
What is Enron's voice mail system telling callers these days? Click here to listen. Note: the site requires Flash. (Thanks to Bill Taylor for this extremely funny link.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

If it’s Tuesday, that must mean factoids!
The Census Bureau has just released its 2000 Population Profile of the United States, which has some intriguing figures about children and families in America. A few examples:

-- In 1970, 36 percent of women ended their childbearing years with four or more children; in 2000, only 11 percent did.

-- In 1970, 40 percent of U.S. households consisted of a married couple with children under 18; in 2000, that “traditional family” made up only 24 percent of U.S households.

-- Children under 18 account for only 26 percent of the U.S. population, but a staggering 37 percent of the poor.

Monday, February 18, 2002

A growing problem ( . . . if you know what I mean).
The American Association for the Advancement of Science is sounding an alarm we've been hearing a lot lately: "a global epidemic of fat." Meeting in Boston today, the AAAS warns that the obesity epidemic is now spreading (no pun intended) from developed countries to less developed ones, reports today's Financial Times. Mark my words: over the next decade, obesity will become a public health brouhaha--replete with big ad campaigns, legions of law suits, and political posturing--that will make the battles over smoking seem tame.

Friday, February 15, 2002

You snooze, you lose?
For all the stunning recent breakthroughs in science and medicine, we still know remarkably little about sleep. Thus the heavy coverage today of a six-year, 1.1 million-person study that challenges the conventional snoozing wisdom. Researchers found that people who sleep only six or seven hours a night live longer than folks who get the recommended eight hours of shut eye. But don’t start pulling all-nighters just yet. Other researchers have recently gathered evidence that sleep is surprisingly important for learning. Babies, one recent study found, can actually learn in their sleep. (Click here, scroll to third item). And Harvard sleep scientists have discovered that a good night’s sleep enhances visual memory and performance. All this raises some interesting issues about Modafinil, a new drug that’s designed to combat narcolepsy--but that might achieve blockbuster status by reducing the need for sleep in others. I can see Big Pharma’s ad campaign now: Modafinil…For a longer life and a shorter memory.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

California, here we come. Again.
Some interesting data out of California (reported in this month’s American Demographics but not available online.) More than one in four Californians was born in another country. As recently as 1970, less than ten percent of California’s population was foreign-born while nearly half migrated from other states. But today, “for the first time in a century, the foreign-born account for a greater share of that state’s population than those born in other parts of the U.S.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Crosswalks, garages, and design's next frontier.
How do you make crossing a street and finding a parking place easier and safer? Good design. Consider these two examples, which I spotted during some recent travel.

In Durango, Colorado, the crosswalk signals change from “Don’t Walk” to “Walk,” as they do most places. But each crosswalk signal (double the size of the typical version) also displays a digital clock that begins counting backward from 30 as soon the sign directs pedestrians to leave the curb. You can see. . . 29 . . . 28 . . . 27 . . . how much time you have left to cross the street . . . 14 . . . 13 . . . 12 . . . and decide whether it’s worth making a mad dash.

I saw the other innovation in visual information on my last trip to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Finding a parking place at BWI is always a pain. But now, when you drive into one of the airport’s parking garages, an electronic board in front of each aisle displays how many empty parking places remain in that aisle. And when you drive down the aisle, above each parking space is a small light operated by a sensor. If the space is empty, the light is green. If a car pulls into the space, it triggers the sensor and turns the light red. This innovation has made parking at BWI less of a hassle—and probably less of a danger. (Keith Alexander’s column in today’s Washington Post reminded me of BWI’s system.)

Neither of these innovations will change the world. But they will likely save some lives—if only by reducing stress and blood pressure. Can better design improve public health? I don’t know. But it sure seems worth a try.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Shoplifting bites.
In honor of this morning’s Academy Award nominations, here’s America's newest celebrity cause (and fashion statement). Repeat after me: Free Winona! Click after me:!

Monday, February 11, 2002

If you disagree with this, you're an idiot.
A Stanford B-School professor offers a keen and underappreciated observation about white-collar culture and organizational dysfunction: "[T]alk can actually drive out action. Studies about the way that meetings actually work demonstrate that negative people are perceived as being smarter than positive people — that is, being critical is interpreted as a sign of intelligence." (Quoted in the book, The Provocateur, and noted in the antepenultimate graf of this USA Today review). This observation also: a) applies to elite journalism; and b) helps explain why I did so poorly in law school.

Saturday, February 09, 2002

A Googlewacked tale.
After a long night washing pots and pans with my feet, I woke up this morning with a nasty scullion toenail. Yech! I called my foot doctor, who I thought was a counter-cultural type, but he turned out to be a recidivist establishmentarian—a real podiatric troglodyte. So I flew up to Davos in New York to consult my ayatollah pal. Since he’s always on the move—this guy is one peripatetic theocrat!—I couldn’t find him at first. But I eventually spotted him at the dessert table with Bill Gates and Alan Greenspan. As this threesome munched on plutocratic strudel, Greenspan recommended a remedy that he says he swears by: rototiller vivisection. (***NOTE: By posting this, I've now sabtoged my own Googlewhack--demonstrating again that it's always better to do these sorts of things in private.)

Friday, February 08, 2002

World wide whack.
Get ready for the web’s next craze: Googlewhacking. The goal of this odd game is to come up with a two-word term that, when you search it on Google, yields only one result. (For full rules, click here.) This turns out to be really hard. I thought I had a winner with autarkic caribou. Wrong. 19 hits. (Rule: You can't put your search term in quotation marks.) Then I tried perky atavism. Nope. 19 hits again. OK, just one more. Onomatopoeic regicide. Survey says … 2! Help me! If I keep Google-whacking, I’ll go blind!

Thursday, February 07, 2002

Late-night humor for the early-to-bed crowd.
In a noble act of public service toward those who monitor America’s comedic zeitgeist, Newsmax collects Leno and Letterman’s opening monologues and publishes them on its web site.

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

Geritol Planet.
Seems like it's trend week here at Just One Thing. File today's entry under "Demography=Destiny." In figures released today, the Census Bureau reports: "By 2025, the number of people age 65 and over throughout the world will nearly double, while the number of children will increase just 3 percent."

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Another intriguing cultural trend seems ready to break the surface: reading books by email. Leading the charge is Books-a-Million’s Book Preview Club, which emails subscribers free 500-word portions of new and popular books every Monday through Friday. Meanwhile, Classic Novels In 5 Minutes A Day will email you short installments of great literature so you can knock off Anna Kareninawhile you’re deleting spam. Cool, huh?

Monday, February 04, 2002

Talk is cheap.
Yesterday’s New York Times discovers an interesting trend: Conversation Cafes. Based in Seattle (natch), Conversation Cafes are a citywide network in which people gather in coffee joints for 90-minute conversations about this, that, and the other thing. Talk, explains founder Vicki Robin, is the perfect pasttime for 2002: it’s “enjoyable, fulfilling — and cheap.”

Friday, February 01, 2002

When the political becomes the personal.
We've seen this movie before. Abortion opponent Dan Quayle says he'd condone his teenage daughter aborting an unwanted pregancy. School voucher opponent Bill Clinton sends his daughter not to a D.C. public school, but to a tony private academy. The most odious political offense, in my humble opinion, is when politicians prescribe remedies for others that they'd never tolerate themselves. Now comes another test of this strain of political hyprocrisy. The daughter of Florida Governor Jeb Bush--drug warrior extraordinare--has been arrested for trying to fill a fake Xanax prescription. Bush's middle child, the family reports, has a "serious" substance abuse problem. Sad news. Faced with this situation, most parents would seek the sensible, compassionate course: treatment for the addiction. But most Governors--particularly those like Bush, whose record and rhetoric support the so-called war on drugs--would choose the tough (sic) course: throw the book at the user. Which will Jeb choose? The lady or the tiger?